Constructs, Culture, and Conversations

Constructs, Culture, and Conversations

Originally posted on 300 Words, 2 Minutes:

Stepping into a new role, in a new place, in a new city, is always a daunting prospect.

Even more so, when one doesn’t have a plan for where to even start.

Fortunately, I’ve bounced around enough, to have crafted a standard approach to getting up to speed quickly and efficiently, and becoming productive immediately upon hitting the ground in a new engagement, project, or position.

My approach centers around three Cs: Constructs, Culture, and Conversations.

The first thing I do in any new engagement is understand all the systems involved, the Constructs, if you will, of the project. This includes everything from understanding accounting systems, the budgeting process, identification of funding sources, and the underlying infrastructure in place to support the enterprise. This is foundational to getting off to a solid, fast start.

Next, I try and suss out the Culture that drives the motivation, purpose, and goals…

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The Best Writing Tool You Have for Persuasion? Your “Voice”

The Best Writing Tool You Have for Persuasion? Your “Voice”

This week, Communications has been front and center for my attention.

In truth, it’s never really far from my mind. 

Because, in order for me to be an effective colleague and coworker, I have to be able to intrinsically understand what is being communicated to me, as well as communicating to others in a way that they understand what I am conveying; and, more importantly, that I achieve the results intended by my method of communication.

One means I use in my written communication, to set tone and atmosphere, is the concept of voice. You might think of it as personality

Whether we all realize it or not, the way we write always carries the DNA of our thoughts along with us when we send out our words into the ether. Many of you can read a few words into an email and immediately recognize – through idiom, habit, or pattern – who the author is, without looking at the “from” line. This is because you are detecting the unseen hand –  and the voice – of the writer. It’s why some people can never submit anything anonymously, because by their quirks and turns of phrase, you will know them.

How can voice be used to achieve positive effect?

First, think of your writing voice as the same thing as your spoken word. Imagine yourself, not at a remove from the person to whom you are speaking, but that they are right there before you. Say only the things you would say to them if they were there before you (no – strike that. Say only the things you should say if they were there before you).

Think of how your audience will react to whatever it is you are about to “say.” Will it put them on the defensive? Will it be hurtful? Will they react positively to your message? Understanding the emotional state your messaging will place the receiver in, by your tone and by your voice, is equally important to achieving whatever objective you’re trying to accomplish through your messaging, as the content of the message itself. In order for seeds to take root, you have to make sure that you’re sowing into fertile ground.

Through judicious use of voice, you can communicate even unpleasant truths, with greater impact – that is, if we use reasoned and dispassionate communications as our default mode, and impassioned language only as warranted. If everything is presented as a crisis (and I know – some weeks, it seems that they are), we are in danger of losing impact in getting our message across. Our audience learns to filter us out. Or worse: ignore us.

As you are reflecting upon your written voice, consider the image you wish to protect. Is it thoughtful? Respectful? Professional? Or is it annoyed? Angry? Resentful? Trust me: we all need editors. Try and use intentional reflection over how your written voice will come across, as your own personal editor. It won’t save you from all situations. But it will, most of the time. When it doubt, it never hurts to wait a few moments, hours – or days – to send out that flaming email you composed in a fit. Remember: you really can’t unsay anything.

Look – not every text or email is going to be a literary masterpiece. We don’t live and work in a vacuum, devoid of emotion, stress, or pressure.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t be intentional about the voice we choose to project, and to become the people we strive to be, represented by that voice – even if we are all still very much works in process.

The Best Laid Plans

The Best Laid Plans

This past Spring, I started a new Blog: 300 Words, 2 Minutes.

My stated intention was to write – and produce a podcast of – 300 words per day (about 2 minutes of spoken content, hence the name. I know, right?).

For a while, I was able to do it.

I was knocking down 300 words of written content like nobody’s biz, and keeping a relatively decent daily stream of content posted to SoundCloud, Stitcher, iTunes, and YouTube. All good in the neighborhood.

And then – the demands of my paying gig simply made even this small commitment nigh impossible to maintain.

I kept assuring myself that I could get it back on track. I still have many great ideas for posts that remain in my noggin, but ready to commit to what the kids used to call the blogosphere (that is, if you were a kid ten years ago).

Alas. My commute, work obligations, and family life are just not allowing it to happen – at the level of quality that I would like to attain with my writing, anyway. If I can’t give it my best, I’m just not going to try and throw out any old dreck.

It’s not just my podcasts and writing that are suffering. My output on other social channels has also been seriously neglected. That’s not an altogether terrible thing, BTW. But I am feeling seriously disconnected from my former levels of social media citizenship.

If it were simply a matter of striking a balance, or squeezing a few more productive moments out of the day, or just sleeping less, I would do it. But I don’t think that is going to get me over the hump.

What I really need is a producer (and a fashion consultant – different post, for a different day). Trying to figure out how to make that work, or even happen. I am open to suggestions / recommendations.

In the meantime, I do have 8-10 days free coming up soon, to see if I can perform a bit of a reboot, on both 300 Words, and on Logorrhea.

So – all this is to say – that I miss hunkering down to knock out a 300-word literary gem every day, and I miss the intentionality of setting aside soak time for self-reflection. I want to be a more proactive thinker, rather than the reactive drone I’ve been of late.

That’s the plan. Let’s see how it goes.

Playing Well with Others

Playing Well with Others

Great musicians aren’t necessarily just the ones who are the most dextrous, or those who exhibit complete mastery over their chosen instrument.

From my perspective, the best musicians are also those who can absolutely “shred” on their own and collaborate seamlessly in an ensemble.

I was reminded of my deficiencies in this regard a couple of years ago, when a colleague of mine invited me to sit in on a couple of songs at a bar in Little Rock. My colleague has been playing in and around Little Rock professionally for thirty-odd years, and it was beyond kind and generous to let this noob share the stage.

One of the songs we played was Amie, by Pure Prairie League.

Now, I have been playing this song, solo and with others, for a score of years, at least. I knew the vocals, the leads, the breaks, the bridge, the turn around – I had the song. Cold.

But, knowing how the song should be played along with on the record, and with a live band, are two entirely different things.

As I came to re-learn all over again, when we came to the instrumental break between verses two and three.

The iconic, syncopated A-G-D chord progression between every verse of Amie is duplicated every time it’s played, with one exception: after the break, when it is played only one time through.

And that is how I have always played it.

But, the band I was playing that night had played Amie for years together, and had always doubled the progression, throughout. So, when it came to the break, I jumped back into the chorus early (from the band’s perspective) – but right on time (from my perspective).

In reality, it was I that was wrong; I should have picked up that they were going to duplicate the A-G-D progression. I wasn’t listening well, or closely, enough – instead, I was focusing only on my upcoming vocal.

Fortunately, these guys were the seasoned pros I knew them to be, and it didn’t become a huge trainwreck. The song, and the rest of the set, went off fine.

All this preamble is to say – that you can technically and factually be in the right, and still be completely wrong.

Being a great collaborator isn’t about being right; it’s about getting the very best results from those with whom you collaborate, and reacting to the changing facts on the ground, as they are, and not as they should be.

If you want to be the Leader of the Band, you first have to learn to Play Well with Others.


The “L” Word

The “L” Word

Originally posted on Taking Aim:

by Roger Pynn

People in our profession ought to see it as job security that so many articles on success in business are dedicated to communication.  For instance, my inbox today brought one from Forbes and another from Fortune.

On, SnappConner PR founder Cheryl Conner’s item headlined “3 Steps to a Billion Dollar Company” had a parenthetical subhead:  “A Hint: Communication is Key.”  One of those steps was “Tell the authentic story only your brand can tell.”

Fortune published a piece by Halogen Software VP of HR Dominique Jones titled “The single worst mistake that a manager can make.”  She shared a list of things managers should do, beginning with “Communicate goals clearly and often.”

You ought to read both of these.  They deliver things you probably already know, but they are good reminders.  More importantly, both make it clear that communication isn’t just about what you…

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Being data-driven is great. Customer Service Theatre is not.

Being data-driven is great. Customer Service Theatre is not.

Is it just me, or has every interaction with every customer service entity devolved into a funnel for customer service surveys?

In fact, on at least two customer service calls I’ve made in the last two weeks, I’ve been proffered a survey, before I even get to contact a rep.

Something’s wrong here.

In fact, I suggest that the overuse of customer service surveys is akin to the misuse of antibiotics in fighting infections – after awhile, a certain immunity builds up, and before you know, surveys are totally ineffective.

Don’t believe me?

Go to a dealership, and buy a car. Before you leave the lot, you are asked to rank the interaction for J.D Power and Associates. Anything less than a perfect ranking is a black eye for the dealership. So, you are instructed that by your salesperson, and asked to vote them a 10. Teaching to the test, as it were. I therefore hold the Power awards to be pretty useless, because they describe nothing about the excellence of the actual customer interaction, only in how well dealers – and anyone using the ranking – game the ranking process.

For an example in the sharing economy, look no further than Uber. I love Uber – and use it regularly. After each ride, you are asked to rank the experience. If drivers average experience rankings fall below a 4.0 out 5.0, they are sanctioned. Regulars know this, and so will rank even average rides as 4.0 so as not to screw the drivers. In other words, the ranking holds no substantive meaning in terms of describing – and improving – actual customer experience; it’s a waste of everyone’s time.

My local cable provider, Optimum, does an exceptional job at customer experience. In fact, their video explaining customer’s first bill is one of the best customer-facing tools I’ve seen in a long time. However, even their techs will push you to rank them highly, when the inevitable survey is sent.

I don’t blame those being ranked for gaming the system. It’s what I would do.

Rather, I would ask companies – are your customer data collection instruments actually improving customer experience, or are you simply providing a mechanism for collecting information for punitive action against those being measured?

If the answer is the latter, you’re doing it wrong.

I “get” that surveys and self-reporting are often the only way to get at some of this information.

But companies should not advertise how they are teasing these metrics internally, to prevent gaming of the system, and to obtain data that is actionable and unbiased, rather than having the customer pre-fed insincere answers that they should supply, regarding their interaction.

Otherwise, it’s only an exercise in self-delusion: customer service theatre.

Customer Service Theatre

The queen sacrifice in education fiction

The queen sacrifice in education fiction

Originally posted on Bryan Alexander:

Upsala Photo from IHE article. Not sure where this is.

Inside Higher Ed ran a column yesterday on a plan to overhaul a hypothetical small college.  In “The State of St. Bridget’s, July 2017” Aden Hayes describes this plan in detail, including a queen sacrifice move.

These are putatively “fundamental changes”, also known as “streamlining”.  They include a variety of practical steps to save and/or generate money: outsourcing some operations; selling a campus building; entering a purchasing co-op with other campuses; going after adult learners; going after online students; joining a library consortium.  I note the canny shift of overseas attention from Britain to China.

The queen sacrifice, cutting academics, is also here.

We have closed two academic programs that had been underenrolled for years — including the interdisciplinary program in Northeast Studies, which competed directly with a similar program at the nearby state university. Three departments had their…

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